Category: News and Events

The Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu has some notable comments regarding compassion and consumerism in this BBC article. The Church of England leader is fearful that religious charity and compassion is being crowded out and under utilized. “Human rights without the safeguarding of a God-reference tends to set up rights which trump others’ rights when the mood music changes,” he says.

The Archbishop also criticized calls for removal of religion from the public square, saying it would usher in rampant consumerism. You can read the Archbishop’s address entirety at this blog. Surely, you may find disagreement with some of his words, but also a clear truth in a lot of his critique.

The Anglican leader has also made recent news because of a charitable parachute jump he plans to make in support of British soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks spoke about “happiness” at an Acton Lecture Series event last week. Dr. Brooks, a professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University and a visiting scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, presented evidence which suggests that religion is the greatest factor in general human happiness in the United States. Religion, argues Dr. Brooks, is essential to human flourishing in the United States and public secularism should be strongly guarded against by everyone – religious or not.

He is the author of, most recently, Gross National Happiness (2008) and Who Really Cares? (2006) published by Basic Books.

We were able to interview Dr. Brooks about happiness – watch it now and see what you think!

This video requires the Flash video plugin

Dr. Brooks’ lecture on happiness is also available for your viewing pleasure.

International aid groups have criticized the EU and many of its member states for falling behind their promises to step up foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GDP by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015.

On the one hand, these groups are right to expose the accounting tricks governments use in order to promote themselves as saviors of Africa. On the other hand, the aid groups should consider very carefully whether their focus on state aid is really the key towards future development in poor countries.

The problem that they indicate is that the EU and its members classify some expenses as aid although these are only indirectly related to development. This includes debt restructuring and payments to cover housing of refugee claimants in Europe.

The aid groups say that in 2007, EU nations spent around €8 billion in such non-aid items. They conclude that “on current trends, the EU will have given €75 billion less between 2005 and 2010 than was promised.”

This kind of creative accounting should not be very surprising since politicians like to claim that they are helping the poorest countries in the world but also know that it is more difficult to tell taxpayers that they have to foot the bill. In such circumstances the most convenient thing to do is to artificially inflate the aid budget with non-aid expenses.

The question remains: Is state-to-state aid the most effective way to promote development? Prof. Philip Booth explained at a recent conference organized by the Acton Institute in Rome that government aid has failed on countless occasions and has even entrenched underdevelopment on some occasions.

Booth made clear that “at the empirical level, there appears to be a negative relationship between aid and growth. This does not imply cause and effect of course, but it should make us pause for thought. After the late 1970s, aid to Africa grew rapidly yet GDP growth collapsed and was close to zero or negative for over a decade from 1984. GDP growth in Africa did not start to pick up again until aid fell in the early-to-mid 1990s. In East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific, one also finds that, as aid reduced, national income increased rapidly.”

It is important to note that Booth criticized government-to-government aid and not charity in general. Whereas transfers between governments have often resulted in rent-seeking and the strengthening of dubious regimes, private initiatives do not suffer from the same problems: “None of the points I have made relate to the exercise of charity. It is important to point out that we should not wait for a just ordering of the world or good governance in recipient countries before supporting charitable relief.”

Aid groups such as Oxfam and Christian Aid would do well to turn their focus away from pressuring governments to spend more on aid and instead strengthen their efforts to encourage private initiatives.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, May 15, 2008

Congress is debating a number of measures designed to “rescue” homeowners facing foreclosure as the housing and credit crisis grinds more and more financial and real estate assets to dust. Much of the reporting on the credit crisis, in the tradition of objective journalism, strains to explain the problem objectively, as if what was happening in the markets was somehow an act of nature, something unguided by human action. Thus, people “fell” into the problem as if pulled by a gravitational force:

Congress has been struggling for months to respond to a mortgage crisis that has left more than 1.2 million homes in foreclosure, with an additional 3 million forecast to join them over the next two years. Most involve subprime loans that established terms the borrowers could not afford. As homeowners defaulted and fell into foreclosure, home prices fell more than 10 percent. Many borrowers who are having trouble making payments find that they cannot sell or refinance their homes because they owe their banks more than their homes are worth.

But markets and industries and trade are guided by human beings, who have fairly well known tendencies. In “The Human Foundation of Financial Risk,” Alex J. Pollack of the American Enterprise Institute looks at that depressingly predictable mass hysteria that has propelled one financial bubble after another from the South Sea Bubble of 1720 and beyond. The “great twenty-first century housing and mortage bubble,” he argues, is just the most recent example.

Pollack notes how the mortgage securities market, looking out on a housing expansion that seemed unending, became “enamored” of statistical models of risk crafted by some of the best and brightest on Wall Street. How well did these arcane formulas come to grips with the human factor?, Pollack asks.

Did they pick up the effects of short memories–of the inclination to convince ourselves that we are experiencing “innovation” and “creativity” when all that is happening is a lowering of credit standards by new names–or of what are rightly considered unearned risk premiums being counted as profits and paid out as bonuses? Did the models adequately take into account the cumulative human forces of optimism, gullibility, short-term focus, genuine belief in momentum, extrapolation of so-far-profitable speculations, group psychology, and increasing fraud? Did the models keep up with the fact that as they were running, the behavior was changing? Obviously, they did not.

He reminds us that the reason financial bubbles are so seductive is that, for awhile at least, everyone associated does pretty well. Homeowners were getting more and more house with easier borrowing terms, lenders were generating profits from ever more creative strategies, and Wall Street was packaging and reselling this stuff to investors all over the world. All the while, Congress and the White House were crowing about ever higher levels of home ownership and participation in the American Dream.

Pollack points to the “widespread realization” in early 2007 that a large proportion of subprime mortages and subprime mortgage securities were going to default as the beginning of the end. It was the disillusion that crashed the party. “The end of belief ends the bubble and begins the bust,” Pollack writes. Let the panic begin.

We’re now in the early phase in what is likely to be a massive push in Washington to bring new regulation to the financial services industry and “rescue” more homeowners in an election year (but probably not the homeowners who have been paying their bills). Pollack again sees how this typically plays out:

In the wake of a bust, there is always a predictable series of political activities: first, the search for the guilty; second, the fall of previously esteemed heroes; and third, legislation and increased regulation to ensure that “this will never happen again.” But, with time, it always does happen again. Consider in this context the statement of the comptroller of the currency in 1914 that with the creation of the Federal Reserve, “financial and commercial crises, or panics . . . seem to be mathematically impossible.”

Pollack talks about the “cumulative human forces” behind the bust. From a Christian perspective, these “cumulative” factors would also include a healthy awareness of the reality of sin. There will always be the risk of cheating and greed and theft in financial affairs, personal and corporate. When that risk is inflated with the bubble, then its effects, as we have seen, may be impossible to contain. And no group caught up in the enthusiasm of the housing and mortgage bubble was immune from it — not the homeowner, not the lender, not the securities market.

The new risk we face is that the regulatory cure proposed by Washington will have it’s own illusions of “innovation” and “creativity” — with a naive belief in the power of government to make any more financial crises “impossible.” Federal bailouts for both bankers and borrowers are on the table. Over-reaction and over-regulation is likely to follow. There will be no discussions about the nature of sin in Congressional hearings, but there will be plenty of demons. Mostly, mortgage lenders. As Pollack observes, it’s all too predictable.

My blog post titled “Toward a Theological Ethic for Internet Discourse” has been recognized in the 2008 EO/Wheatstone Academy Symposium. Here is a full list of the top five posts (along wtih an honorable mention):

First Place: Mark Fedeli at A Deo Lumen

Second Place: Jordan J. Ballor at The Acton Institute Power Blog

Third Place: Mark Stanley at Digital Reason

Fourth Place: Jeff Nuding at Dadmanly

Fifth Place: Letitia Wong at Talitha Koum

Honorable Mention: Donnell Duncan at The Cracked Door

This year’s symposium question was: If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media? Be sure to check out all the posts linked above for the responses judged to be the best.

Normally I don’t celebrate coming in second in anything (it’s not “runner-up,” it’s “first loser”), but in this case I’m honored to share the company with these other worthy authors.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico was invited to deliver the Krieble Lecture at the 31st Annual Heritage Foundation Resource Bank Meeting on April 24 in Atlanta. His talk ranged widely over “the simple idea of human liberty” and what is required to preserve it.

“People live off of a legacy of the past and all too many people find themselves incapable of defending the heritage of Western civilization,” Rev. Sirico said in his lecture. “Each day people assume that prosperity is just part and parcel of the natural law. Wasn’t it always so?”

The Heritage Foundation’s Annual Resource Bank Meeting gathers more than 500 think tank executives, public interest lawyers, policy experts, and elected officials from around the world to discuss issues, strategies, and methods for advancing free market, limited government public policies. The Resource Bank is also conducted in partnership with groups such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, State Policy Network, and World Taxpayers Associations.

Listen to an audio recording of Rev. Sirico’s Krieble Lecture here.

Acton Senior Fellow in Economics Jennifer Roback Morse made an appearance last night on The Glenn Beck Show on Headline News Network. The topic of conversation was “hookup culture” and the degraded sexual ethics of our culture. Dr. Morse is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World. If you missed the show, the clip is below:

United Methodist renewal groups are under attack by liberal denominational leaders at General Conference for providing the gift of free cell phones for some international delegates who made the trip to Forth Worth, Texas.

Opponents of the the evangelical renewal groups are afraid that the phones will be utilized to tell certain international delegates how to vote. A letter from the renewal groups supposedly included with the gift invited them to a breakfast, provided other General Conference news, and a list of candidates they should consider for UM Judicial Council positions, which is the highest court in the denomination.

General Conference is the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church. The conference is now currently taking place in Fort Worth. Delegates from all over the country and the world attend General Conference, which is composed of clergy and laity.

The Confessing Movement
, UM Action (IRD), Good News, and Transforming Congregations provided the phones for delegates. The phones were intended to give international delegates, many of whom are from Africa, the same access to communication as other delegates have at the conference. Church liberals however do not see it that way and are oddly accusing renewal groups of bribery and racism, even though international delegates greatly appreciated the act of hospitality. Erin Hawkins who is the top executive of the church’s commission on Religion and Race was quoted in a United Methodist News Service article on the controversy saying:

My hope is that the white leadership of the church would be mindful of the actions in light of the history of exploitation of people of color in this church. I hope they would not willingly engage in any sort of behavior that would undermine the humanity of people of color whether they are in the United States or other countries. This action of giving cell phones to buy or manipulate people can be interpreted as a return to that sort of racist behavior.

I personally know many of the individuals who make up the Methodist renewal groups and their integrity and commitment to a fair and democratic process is an automatic for me simply based on their character. Years ago I imagine this would have not even been a story, but here’s the rub. Decades and decades of entrenched liberal power, where some church leaders have used the United Methodist Church for their own left wing theological and political activism, is now finding their unchecked power threatened and they are lashing out as a result.

In contrast, African delegates are firmly committed to Biblical and theological integrity, and their delegate numbers are rising, just as the number of United Methodists in this country are shrinking, largely because of the denomination’s unfaithfulness to clear Christian teaching. UM Action has a good story on this issue titled, “African Declaration Released at UM Renewal and Reform Conference.”

Mark Tooley is the Director of UM Action and he offered me this frank assessment of the cell phone controversy today:

The liberal controlled agencies of the church have long deluged international delegates with gifts and favors over the years in a vain attempt to gain their support for a liberal agenda. But the international delegates have not been seduced by the misbegotten riches of the church bureaucracy. Their faith remains strong. Naturally, the church left responded with rage to the distribution of cell phones by evangelicals, who have no need whatsoever to manipulate or even persuade the overseas delegates, whose solidly biblical views are already akin to our own.

Of course, the whole notion that international or African delegates can be bribed or controlled with a hospitable gift that allows them equal access to technology is entirely demeaning in so many ways.

Elizabeth Turner, who is an editorial assistant at Good News told me yesterday:

The problem is that despite the emphasis on “holy conferencing”, there are those who are quick to attribute the worst motives rather than engage in fair inquiry. It’s disappointing, but the people most harmed in all of this isn’t the Coalition [Renewal Groups] – it’s the delegates who are outraged that some people would think they would be naive, or accept some kind of bribe.

If you are so inclined to examine a host of issues at General Conference you can visit IRD’s live blog. IRD also released a press statement concerning the charge of manipulation.

Tooley has described the renewal process as a long and arduous task, and United Methodism as being better equipped for reform over other mainline protestant denominations because of the growing influence of its more evangelical international connection. Unsurprisingly, United Methodist Church liberals do not seem willing to relinquish any power or yield to reforms before exhausting all means and tactics, no matter how bizarre they may be.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, April 21, 2008

Patriots’ Day is a festive celebration commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord. The holiday observes the April 19 anniversary of when the American colonies first took up arms against the British Crown in 1775.

Massachusetts and Maine officially recognize the historic anniversary. Recently the holiday has been observed on the third Monday in April to allow for a three day weekend. The Boston Marathon takes place today and the Boston Red Sox are always scheduled to play at home.

Historian David Hackett Fischer has an excellent narrative account titled Paul Revere’s Ride . Fischer’s book also chronicles the Lexington and Concord skirmishes in a manner I found to be nothing less than fascinating. His account also references clergymen who took up arms against the British as well.

Jules Crittenden also provides a substantial amount of first hand accounts of Lexington and Concord with a nice tribute to Patriots Day titled“April Morning.”

Charlie Foxtrot provides a humorous comment on his blog which pokes fun at Senator Barack Obama’s recent gaffe on religion, guns, and small town America. Foxtrot notes that “233 years ago, a group of bitter men clung to their guns and religion, driven by their antipathy towards people who weren’t like them. In the end, I think it worked out OK.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008
Clinton or Obama?

A few of you may have noticed that we’ve added a small polling widget on the right side-bar of this blog. This, of course, is all highly “un-scientific” and doesn’t really mean much, but can provide some interesting results. The current poll asks who you would prefer as the Democratic candidate for the general elections in November – Omaba or Clinton. The results, so far, show Clinton ahead of Obama by about 58% to 42%. This is in contraction with the nationwide polls right now.

I’m curious to know a little bit more. Why would you prefer the one over the other?

  1. Are you a Republican and think that the candidate you chose would lose the General Election to McCain?
  2. Are you a Republican and think that if a Democrat is going to be elected, you would prefer the one over the other?
  3. Are you a Democrat and favor the one candidate over the other?
  4. Are you a Democrat and just think the one has a better chance of winning a General Election over the other?